In the opening scene of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls we journey with fifteen-year-old Thea Atwell from her home in rural Florida to a girl’s boarding school in the rural Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It’s 1930, and the affects of the Great Depression are just beginning to sink in. But as Thea rides with her father from her family’s insular thousand acre citrus farm in Florida to what Thea believes is a summer horse camp, we learn that deeper upheavals than economic issues have just taken place within her family.
This coming-of-age tale is narrated by Thea who has an unflinching view of herself and those around her. Though she and her twin brother, Sam were raised in almost total isolation on their rural Florida farm, she speaks with surprising maturity. The story switches between the events that lead up to her banishment to the Yonaholossee Riding Camp for Girls, and her time spent at the school. The school is an all girls school largely populated by the daughters of wealthy Southern families. Though Thea hasn’t ever been around this number of girls before, she navigates the vagaries of boarding school fairly well. One thing that helps her cope is the horses. She had a beloved pony, Sasi, at home; and at the school riding is an integral part of the curriculum.
This book centers around Thea’s sexual awakening and the unforeseen consequences that awakening has within her family. Carrying on the theme, Thea has an inappropriate sexual relationship with someone at the school. At the school Thea uses sex as a way to allay her loneliness, and to have some small control over her life. In sex she finds solace, and gives solace. Fair warning: some of the sex scenes are explicit, but they’re not gratuitous.
Big chunks of the book center around horses, which can also carry an undercurrent of sexuality. Many scenes are spent describing time Thea spent with her pony in Florida and then with her assigned horse, Naari at school. The school’s annual end-of-the-year riding competition adds to the feeling of suspense that threads throughout the book. As a former horse-mad adolescent, I enjoyed all the time spent with the horses in this book.
Anton DiSclafani has written a terrific first novel. DiSclafani teaches Creative Writing at Washington University in St. Louis, and her skills as a writer are on full display here. The book may have been just a tad long in the telling for my taste, but the scenes were compelling and evocatively written.
Krista lives just outside the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. Lamentably, her work as a technical writer and business analyst often interferes with her reading which is a true passion.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Riverhead. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.